“We won’t resist.” Lannetay waved her crew into obedience. “We will, however, file a complaint.”
“That is your right.” Yundu sneered, as if he’d heard the threat too many times to count. “Good luck with doing so.”
The Wanti waved his soldiers toward the airlocks. “You’ll be notified when to make your hold available. If you fail to comply, we’ll take your ship. If you sell off your manifest, we’ll take your ship. If you try to run, we’ll take your ship.” He spun away from Lannetay and marched to the airlock.
After the lock closed, Marc said, “What a jerk.”
Lannetay was glad Marc had waited until the Wantis were gone before speaking.
“Mom, are all Wantis like that?”
Iresha gave him a withering stare. “Not all of us – them.”
“It’s a symptom of unchecked power.” L-T’s degree was in politics. “When there are only directives from above, people tend to view those beneath them in the hierarchy as resources or pawns. They’re treated that way by their superiors, so they treat others that way.”
Goofball plopped into a still-forming recliner. “Sounds like a feedback loop. Propeller-driven aircraft going into a spin get that way. One wing has lift, one doesn’t, so you end up in a spin pointed straight down. Takes practice to know what you’re looking at.”
“Getting out of it is tricky.” Lannetay glared at the airlock. “Like this situation.”
Carnifor scowled. “I recognize this as the strong squeezing the weak.”
“Told ya before, we need ta arm the ship.” Olthan frowned. “Even a puny gun’s better than nothin’. Them pirates woulda been surprised.”
“An armed trading ship isn’t illegal, but it is frowned upon.” Lannetay looked at L-T. “Won’t it create more problems by having a disrupter?”
L-T raised an eyebrow and pondered. “There are ways to hide weapons from scanners and visual inspection.”
“Whatever might be possible,” Carnifor said, “we don’t have the resources to do it. This confiscation will force us to buy something to haul to our next stop.”
“Wherever that might be.” Marc sat.
Bill told Lannetay, Marc’s accessing EarthCore again.
At least he’s meeting people not aboard this ship. Keep monitoring and doing checks on them. Only if they’re a bad influence do I need to know.
Lannetay headed to the control cabin to think. Carnifor followed, as if he didn’t want to miss out on anything. Did he smile at Iresha before he left? Lannetay couldn’t be sure.
“Marc seems a trifle withdrawn.” Carnifor sat in the right-hand seat.
Lannetay grunted. “Bill and I think meeting people his own age would be good for him. With all the adults around he could get too serious. He needs to have some fun.”
“There’s some danger in that. Might come across some folks who won’t have his best interests in mind.”
“Maybe.” Lannetay watched a power meter on an in-head display. “Bill keeps our firewalls current and thoroughly vets everyone Marc meets. So far it’s been okay.”
Carnifor nodded. “I certainly don’t envy you raising a smart kid like Marc in these circumstances.”
“I wasn’t given much of a choice about the circumstances.” Lannetay still resented Admiral Choergatan strong-arming her into her current mission. A year of service for the ship had seemed like a good idea at the time, but Wantis cropping up every time they tried to accomplish something gave her second thoughts. And she wasn’t even half-way through.
Bill cut off Lannetay’s ruminations. “Gorbandic Station is calling.”
Lannetay and Carnifor traded looks. “Audio, please,” they said in unison.
“There’s video available.”
Lannetay thought-clicked to accept an in-head video link. “William Placard here. Go ahead, Gorbandic Station.”
A pale-skinned woman with a flattop hairstyle appeared in Lannetay’s mind. “We’re very sorry about your cargo. Is there anything we can do to help make your trip here not be a total loss?”
Carnifor rolled his eyes and spoke so only Lannetay could hear. “That’s why they’re called ‘jarheads.’”
Lannetay fought a smirk and resisted calling him a squid. “We’d like to have a consignment for another destination, if you could arrange it.”
“Consignments are okay.” The woman leaned in. “Not much profit margin for you though. Are you sure you don’t have anything of value? A little bird tells me you might have a ‘kit’ Yundu missed when he scanned your ‘caboodle’ for confiscation.’”
Lannetay hid her panic. “Can you hang on for a moment? I’ll check our manifest.”
The woman from Gorbandic Station nodded, and Bill cut the feed.
“A trap?” Carnifor seemed as worried as Lannetay looked. “Seems to me ‘kit and caboodle’ is slang not many people would know.”
Lannetay wondered. The race between totalitarian regimes and black market trading would continue for the life of the universe. This contact could be a Wanti plant, but also might have a valid proposal.
“Bill, could you tell if she was on the up-and-up?”
“Sorry, Lannetay. There was plenty of stress in her voice, but if she really is looking for a colonization kit, she’s risking a lot with Wantis potentially looking over her shoulder.”
Lannetay signaled to be reconnected. “Gorbandic Station, I’m still looking over possibilities. Did this ‘little bird’ have a name?”
The woman frowned. “Let’s just say she wasn’t my mom.” The slight emphasis on “mom” seemed suggestive.
Carnifor whispered, “Grenwel Pop?”
A brief wave signaled Carnifor to hush, then Lannetay continued. “There’s a matronly woman we met recently. If only I could remember her name.”
“That’s it!” Lannetay brightened. “Grenwel.”
Bill cut into the conversation. “Your reunion will have to wait, ladies. Cargo carriers are approaching our ship, and the lead truck is signaling for us to open our main doors.”
Lannetay kept her attention on the Gorbandic display. “I’ll come for a visit, and we can talk all about Cousin Grenwel.”
“I look forward to it. Gorbandic Station, out.”
Lannetay and Carnifor stood and exited the control cabin. In the common room L-T and Iresha both read, while Goofball flew another in an endless series of sorties in his holographic fighter. Olthan broke down and cleaned a small disrupter pistol that had already been cleaned a hundred times. The KR-9 “Thorn” was even legal on Wrantiban, though rumors suggested it wouldn’t be for much longer.
Iresha looked up as Carnifor walked past toward the cargo hold.
Bill laughed silently to Lannetay. She told Carnifor, “nice view.”
Lannetay grinned. Stop spying, Bill. It’s unbecoming.
Bill laughed again.
Carnifor blushed as he and Lannetay passed through the hatches into the access corridor.
In the cargo bay, Lannetay ordered Bill to open the main clam shell doors. They slid aside as the first transport backed up to the ship. Antigravs adjusted the truck’s altitude to match the ship’s cargo deck. Lannetay and Carnifor walked toward the opening down a narrow aisle between massive crates.
The back doors of the lorry opened and an atmospheric retention field extended to match the one protecting the William Placard’s hold. A pair of soldiers with rifles at the ready stood behind a man holding a small display.
“I have an order to confiscate your cargo.” The man looked up, for the first time noticing the large crates stacked in the hold. “We’re gonna need a bigger truck.”
Making us wait while they steal our cargo is kind of rude, Carnifor sent to Lannetay.
Lannetay rolled her eyes but didn’t respond to Carnifor. “We’ll drop the biggest off to the side and you can load the smaller ones.”
One crate holding a fully-assembled industrial grade oxygen plant lifted a centimeter off the deck and floated into the thin, poisonous air on Swonorikus. Bill shifted it to one side and lowered it to the rocky surface. Four more similar units followed the first before creating enough room for smaller equipment to move into the trucks.
“There goes fifty thousand credits,” Carnifor grumbled. “Could have sold it for eighty.”
For three hours Lannetay stood grinding her teeth. Arms crossed, her fingers drummed deeper and deeper into her upper arms. “This should have taken only two hours.”
“Never been a slower theft in history.” Carnifor echoed her frustration. “Moving large objects always takes longer than it should.”
Finally the last crate slid into one final lorry. The man with the display checked the package’s code against his list. “That’s all. Thank you for your cooperation.”
As the man turned, Lannetay muttered, “As if we had a choice.”
The only hint she’d been heard was a small hesitation in the man’s pace. He stepped from the ship into the truck and closed the door without comment.
Okay, Bill, Lannetay sent, close her up.
Carnifor waited for Lannetay to head back toward the living area of the William Placard. “An empty cargo bay gives me the willies.”
If you're wondering more about these characters, their origins are detailed in Ebony Sea: Origins. If you appreciate this story, please share on social media, and consider supporting the author's ability to continue writing by purchasing the Origins story and leaving a review at the link above.